Thursday, 17 February 2011

Business brands for 24/7 workers

24/7 is a dream of efficiency for businesses.
Buying and consuming all day across the world.
Working across each timezone.

You probably work more than 9-5. And you probably check your email at night; at the weekend; again; and again. But that's ok. Because businesses do run all night, and because you might well have your best brainwave at night, or in the shower. And now you can capture it, and act on it, straight away.

We've got the technology to be more connected, and we can make the trade-offs in how we use it.

The acceptance of business as innate to our lives, rather than a prop for them, is changing our habits of consumption. e.g. Business products required in the home - e.g. broadband is often a domestic necessity to keep us online (witness those MP's expenses for it), e.g. Social products required in business - e.g. iPhones and iPads used for corporate email. Both products keep us working and playing all day long. Symbiotically we're connected in technology, but also in thought and focus on priorities of what we must do.

Business brands are having to move further away from the stereo-type "Business Man" to people who live and work in the same life. Accenture focused on marketing through Tiger Woods, to move Consulting to a favourite ground for mixing work and play. Cisco have demonstrated the benefits of their technology to people, more than just technology offices to create the 'Human Network'.

Opportunity to succeed comes from being able to demonstrate benefits to users, that reflect life of ambitions that inter-relate work as well as what we do outside it. Brands who can benefit our quality of life, and our success to manage colleagues, managers, friends and family will succeed in the complex web we've woven.

This is a guest blog, written by Phil Edelin, Brand Consultant for Dave.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Is Big Brother a good concept to base a marketing campaign on?

The concept of Big Brother rarely gets treated with a positive spin. From the television programme to CCTV cameras, the term is awash with negative subtext. People don’t like the thought that they’re being watched, controlled, or left powerless by others. So with this in mind, why would a company design a direct marketing campaign based on the concept of Big Brother?

There are a number of increasingly popular tactics that companies are using that retarget consumers who have visited their site without buying anything. This is called behavioural retargeting. Or behavioral retargeting if you're on the other side of the pond!

For Christmas 2009, I bought my wife some clothes from Later on in the year, my wife was using my laptop and visited the same website. The next time I checked my e-mails there was one from Oli:

I was confused because I'd not visited that site since the previous Christmas. I assumed it was spam. After establishing that my wife had been on the site that week, I understood that the the company had employed retargeting tactics using information from the cookie in my browser. This is a creative marketing strategy. However, I hadn't given Oli permission to contact me in the first place so to receive an e-mail thanking me for visiting a site I hadn't personally accessed was an invasion of privacy. Oli will argue that this e-mail is permissible because they're contacting me for the same reasons that we had originally done business. This is okay without opt-in.

I understand the strategy behind it, however I wasn't impressed and it left me with a poor impression of the company. I talked to my wife about this and her first reaction was of shock that a. Oli had the capability of doing this and b. they thought it was an acceptable tactic. has since merged with, so it will be interesting to see whether their retargeting tactics change.  

This is an example of behavioural retargeting based on my previous interactions with the company. Companies are also using behavioural retargeting even when they don't know who you are. 

You can visit a website, search for or view certain products and the site's cookie will then intelligently seed adverts through networks with the same or similar products, encouraging you to come back and convert into a customer. Therefore, if you visit a website that's part of the network, you'll be served with adverts that present you with similar products. 

I'm going to Nice later this year, so I'm looking for hotels. After visiting Expedia, I left without booking because I wanted to check out the prices of the same hotels on other sites. Today, I visited a non-travel related website and was presented with the ad to the right with details of three of the hotels I was looking at a few days previously. Clever.

Again, this could be regarded as invasion of privacy, however I'm not as shocked about this as Oli's retargeting. Why?

Sure, Expedia is hitting websites I visit with records of my previous searches, however I don't feel like it's invading my privacy. It's not pushing its way into my letterbox and telling me that it's spying on my every move. These ads are taking a more subtle approach and although it's a reminder that my online activity isn't private, it doesn't feel invasive.

I asked my wife what she thought about this retargeting technique and her instinctive reaction was that it was clever. After some thought, she then started questioning how it worked and exactly what information was being shared with third parties. She ended up having so many questions that her initial enthusiasm was forgotten. 

This is still relatively early days for this type of tactic. While retargeting is one of the more advanced ways of improving conversion, it needs some refining and I think it will improve as consumers' awareness of it grows. 

If you look at the bottom right hand corner of the ad above, there is a small i symbol. When clicked, this gives you more information about how the ad works and also an opportunity for you to opt-out of behavioural retargeting. This is good because transparency is important; however I wonder how many people actually click it? I'm guessing the number is very low! It's pretty inconspicuous. 

So how can this awareness and transparency grow? Should websites carrying these adverts have some responsibility for explaining to its users why they're being served targeted ads, or is it the advertisers responsibility? Should consumers have to opt-in to this advertising instead of having to opt-out? I think in the case of, opt-in should be a given.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Amazon’s personalization feature should be more personal

Amazon is an ecommerce trailblazer. From the long tail strategy that Jeff Bezos adopted for the company to its groundbreaking affiliate scheme. Where this online giant leads, others follow, including Packt.

Amazon was one of the first websites to introduce personalization and the ability to push targeted products to customers based on their browsing and purchase history. This transformed the customer experience and gave us products and options that we weren’t aware of and ultimately persuaded us to buy more.

I like French films but my French isn’t great, so I rely on reviews and recommendations from English speakers. With Amazon’s personalization, I get a regular stream of suggestions and ideas of films to watch. However I think Amazon’s personalization algorithm is flawed and needs updating.

My main gripe is that it doesn’t take into account fast-moving, regular purchases against one-off or once-in-a-while items. Before expanding into the world's biggest department store, Amazon's core business was books, CDs and DVDs. Personalised recommendations of these reasonably low-priced items work well and I have bought many a French film thanks to them. However if I bought a new LCD TV, I don’t expect to be presented with a list of other LCD TVs every time I visit the site over the next few weeks.

Amazon also heavily weights its personalization results with your most recent activity. So if I was to visit any page on its website, even if someone sent me a link to a product with funny reviews, my next session would be dominated by similar products. One of the reasons I included this here was because I had been sent a link to the reviews of an album by a questionable celebrity duo and for my next visit, I was presented with the male half of the duo's back-catalogue. This has happened with other products.

However on researching this blog, I found a link to an article about funny Amazon reviews. I checked out this relaxation tank on their .com site, with some very funny customer comments. I then visited the homepage to see what I was presented with, expecting other relaxation-based products and instead, there was a list of the other items with funny reviews. Maybe Amazon has cottoned on, with its .com site leading the way.

Over Christmas, I used Amazon to buy many of my presents, as many of us did, however even though I was happy to buy my sister a copy of the Style Book: Fashionable Inspirations, I didn’t want to see similar products the next time I visited. I want to see suggestions of similar products that I'm interested in, not those that I've bought for others. My sister may disagree.

With Amazon, you can delete items from your browsing history, however for an intelligent system, I shouldn't have go out of my way to visit my browsing history and then scroll down to delete the things I wasn't interested in seeing. They could make this easier for customers by offering checkboxes on product pages and in the checkout procedure. Even if there was an option for me to state whether the purchase is a present and if I wanted to remove it from my browsing history, would be a good start.

Amazon, with all its customer data and purchase history, should also understand what products are bought regularly and those that we buy less frequently. These products should be removed from the personalization adverts, or at the very least, show me one or two products, not a never ending list. For what has been designed as an intelligent system, it hasn't scaled its intelligence as the site has scaled.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

The single most popular shopping cart conversion clincher

The conversion and abandonment rates of our shopping cart are two of our most important ecommerce KPIs. The shopping cart has been optimised to within an inch of its life, following best practice and tips from industry leaders.

This has resulted in:
  • A standout checkout button with available card symbols and a trust seal placed above the fold
  • Checkbox for easily copying over shipping to billing address
  • Product availability 
  • Breakdown of price
  • Upsell to related products
  • Shipping costs
In early 2011 we're adding premium shipping options and a save cart for later button.

Am I missing anything here to help optimize our checkout further? Let me know what you think.

These improvements improved conversion and subsequently our abandonment from the cart dropped. However, there was still room for improvement. So where was this extra juice to be squeezed from? The only concrete way to find out was to turn to our customers. I've mentioned in another post how talking to our customers is probably the most important and successful tactic we employ for improving our services and this is another example of that.

We began e-mailing and surveying customers that dropped out of the cart to ask them why and also wrote to those that converted to ask them what swayed them. 

The number one reason? Shipping.

Due to the location of our printers and distributors, Packt offers free shipping to certain countries and charges for others. For those with free shipping it was a deal breaker, for those that we charged shipping for, it was the number one reason for abandoning. For many customers, the shipping costs put doubts in their minds about the overall cost and was a push to find the same product cheaper elsewhere.

This was difficult to counteract as it would result in changing our business model or heavily reducing our profits. So what was left for us to do? How could we turn these customers around? 

The answer was with our eBooks. For all print book orders, we added the upsell message for our eBooks and outlined how these offered quicker access. This didn't reduce the price of shipping but offered a relatively cheap way to start reading the book as soon as it had been purchased. Of all the optimisations we introduced on the site, this was the most effective in terms of reducing abandonment. 

So sometimes, you can follow as many best practice guides as you like, however in order to find out how to take your site's performance to the next level, the answer is with your customers.